What the Catholic Church in Malawi is Doing to Grow Local Vocations among Youth

Credit: Fr. Petros Mwale

“To continue with evangelization, we must grow our own local vocations,” Fr. Petros Mwale, the Chaplain of the youth in the Southern African country of Malawi, has said in response to the crisis posed by decreasing numbers of non-native Catholic Clergy. 

Vocations Sunday, which is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Easter, is a time for Religious Congregations to cast their nets into the deep, especially among the youth, in order to grow the numbers of consecrated men and women in the country, Fr. Mwale said.

This year’s Vocations Sunday, April 30 in particular saw over 500 young people gather at St. Denis Parish of Malawi’s Catholic Diocese of Mzuzu where they met Vocations Directors from different Religious Orders. 

About 17 percent of Malawi’s estimated 20 million people are Catholic. Fr. Mwale said that currently, the country only has 496 Diocesan priests, and sees Vocations Sunday as a way forward for vocations to Priesthood and Religious Life, although they also promote marriage. 

In a Tuesday, May 3 interview with ACI Africa, the youth chaplain of Mzuzu’s Central Deanery said that the event was an opportunity for Religious Congregations in the Southern African nation “to market” what they do and their different spiritualities.


“It was a time for Priests to talk about the nature of their apostolates, and for Sisters to come out of their convents and to meet young girls who are interested in Religious Life,” Fr. Mwale said.

The member of Clergy of Mzuzu Catholic Diocese said that the celebration of Vocations Sunday in Malawi has been an important tool in growing vocations in the country.

“Some people believe that Priests must always come from the Minor Seminary. I am an example of a Priest who found his calling from attending Vocations Sunday. There, I listened to Vocations Directors and found direction of what I wanted to become in life. I just attended a regular community school and proceeded to join formation without stepping into a minor seminary,” Fr. Mwale said.

The April 30 event saw young people from St. Cecilia Catholic Parish of Mzuzu Diocese visit neighboring St. Denis Parish.

Organizers of the event invited Vocations Directors from different Congregations of Priests, and women and men Religious.

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They were allowed to give talks about their respective Congregations, especially relating to their charisms and spiritualities.

Couples were also invited to give talks of what goes into stable Christian marriages.

After the talks, the young people were allowed to further engage the Vocations Directors of the Congregations they had expressed an interest in.

In the May 3 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Mwale underscored the need to nurture local vocations, saying, “The non-native missionaries who evangelized the country have been decreasing. To continue with evangelization, we must grow our own local vocations.”

He said that the Church in Malawi has put the youth ministry at the core of evangelization in the country.


The youth, he said, are organized under stable patronages in parishes, and are involved in various Diocesan pastoral activities.

In their parishes and Dioceses, the youth in Lamai are allowed representation on financial committees, and in all Church development projects.

The Diocese of Mzuzu is divided into the northern, central, and southern deaneries, all of them rural.

Growth in vocations in the Malawian Diocese is hindered by illiteracy and early marriages, Fr. Mwale said.

“Our Diocese is located in a rural setting where many families are poor and can barely afford to educate their children past primary school. Many young people are locked out of Religious Congregations for lack of relevant academic qualifications,” the Catholic Priest said.

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He added, “There is a high school dropout rate, and many children who drop out of school end up in early marriages. This blocks them from exploring other vocations.”

The Priest said that the Church in Malawi, through the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) is always trying to get children back to school, and added, “But there is always the problem of finances. The Church is always overwhelmed by the number of families in need.”

Bishops in Malawi have previously made an appeal to the youth in the country to consider devoting their life to the service of the Church, noting the shortage of Priests in the country.

“We, your Bishops in all the eight Dioceses in the country, are inviting you all our youths to reflect on your calling, especially the call to Priesthood because the vineyard is huge,” Bishop John Ryan of Mzuzu was quoted as saying a March 2022 report.

In his message for last year’s Vocations Sunday, Bishop Ryan bemoaned the reluctance on the part of young men in Malawi to dedicate their lives to the service of God as Priests.

The Catholic Bishop who has been at the helm of Mzuzu Diocese since his Episcopal Ordination in August 2016 said only three Priests had been ordained since his consecration as a Bishop, “a development which is worrisome,” he said.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.